The First Mate, by Harry Collingwood.
The hero of this story is Walter Leigh, who takes a job as second mate aboard a gasoline-powered yacht owned by a Mrs Vansittart, whose husband is an American industrialist. Julius Vansittart is a rather nasty 12-year-old, who, despite his life being saved by Leigh, when he had fallen overboard, hates the English, and never misses an opportunity of being as unpleasant as possible, even to the point of stupidity.
There are numerous disasters in this story, with the First Mate's death occurring soon after the start of the book, and Leigh's promotion to the position. After that there are an attack by pirates, a shipwreck, an attack by hostile natives, all of which Leigh does his best to cope with. Eventually even the dreadful Julius becomes a bit more civilised, and apologises for his bad behaviour hitherto.
They drop a large number of floating messages asking for help, into the sea, and eventually they are rescued. This is not a very long book, taking only 8.5 hours to read as an audiobook.
THE FIRST MATE, BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.
THE "STELLA MARIS" AND MRS VANSITTART.
"Well, young man, what do you think of her?"
The question was addressed to me in a very pleasantly modulated female voice, carrying just the slightest suspicion of an American accent. For the fraction of a second I was a wee bit startled. I had not had the ghost of a suspicion that anyone was nearer me than the gang of labourers who were busily engaged in unloading a big delivery wagon and transferring the contents, in the shape of numerous packing cases, to the deck of the vessel which I was scrutinising. It was afternoon of a grey day in the latter part of October three years ago; and the scene was one of the wharves of the east basin of the London Docks, round which I had been prowling in search of a ship. I had been thus engaged ever since nine o'clock that morning, interviewing skippers and mates, so far unsuccessfully, when I was "brought up all standing" by finding myself in close proximity to a white-hulled, ship-rigged craft of, I estimated, some two thousand five hundred tons measurement.
She was steel-built, with steel lower masts, bowsprit, and lower and topsail yards; and even if she had not been sporting the ensign of the New York Yacht Club at her ensign staff and its burgee at her main royal-mast-head, I should still have known her for a yacht from the perfection of her lines, the dainty and exquisite beauty of her shape, the whiteness of her decks (notwithstanding their somewhat littered condition), the beautiful modelling of her boats, her polished teak rails, and generally the high finish and perfect cleanliness of her deck fittings. She was as heavily rigged as a frigate; moreover, although no guns were visible, I observed that her main-deck bulwarks were pierced with six ports of a side, in the wake of which steel racers were bolted to the deck; also she sported hammock rails, which I had never seen before except in pictures of old-fashioned wooden men-o'-war. A gilt cable moulding ornamented her sheer strake; a beautifully carved and gilded full-length figure of a woman wearing a star of cut-glass facets on her forehead formed her figurehead; and her quarters were adorned with a considerable amount of gilded scroll-work. Her elliptical stern bore, in large gilded block letters, the words: Stella Maris. New York.
As the enquiry with which I have opened this story reached my ears, I wheeled round and found myself face to face with a little lady. She was very richly dressed in silk and furs, quite colourless as to complexion, but with a fine pair of deep violet eyes and a quantity of dark chestnut hair loosely coiled under an immense hat rigged with black ostrich plumes. I put her down in my own mind as being something over thirty-six years of age, and I subsequently learned that I was not very far out.
Her eyes were dancing with amusement as I wheeled sharply round upon her; and as my hand went up to my cap she laughed a low, musical laugh.
"Guess I startled you some, didn't I?" she remarked in that pleasant voice of hers. "You were so completely absorbed by the charms of Stella Maris that you had neither eyes nor ears for anybody else. Well, what do you think of her?"
I was bareheaded by this time, but still a trifle confused at the suddenness and unconventionality of my companion's address; yet I quickly recovered my equanimity.
"She is the most lovely craft I ever set eyes on, bar none," I answered with enthusiasm.
"Yes, she is a real daisy," agreed my companion. "Do you know what she is?"
"I know what she ought to be," I said; "and that is, flagship of the Club. But I see by her burgee that she is merely the property of one of its members."
"That is so," returned the lady; "but I guess it's good enough. Say, would you like to go aboard and have a look at her from inside?"
"Indeed I should, if her owner would not—"
"Well, come along, then," cut in my companion. "I'm the owner, and I promise you that I won't."
So saying, my strange acquaintance led the way to a narrow gang plank stretching from the wharf to the ship's poop. Laughingly declining my proffered assistance, she tripped lightly along it, and as lightly sprang down upon the deck of narrow planking paid with white-lead instead of the more usual pitch.
Allowing me a few moments to look round, my companion presently led me forward to the break of the poop, where, standing at the head of one of the ladders leading down to the main-deck, I obtained a view of the whole length of the ship. The first thing to attract my attention was the wheelhouse, a teak structure raised upon massive steel standards, lofty enough to allow the helmsman a clear view ahead and astern.
Some ten feet ahead of it was the after hatchway, the coamings of which stood about eighteen inches high, and, like those aboard a man-o'-war, were protected by rails and stanchions. The hatchway was open, and there was a ladder leading down through it. Just beyond this was the mainmast; a little way forward of which was the main-hatch, also open, and, like the other, protected by rails and stanchions. Beyond this hatchway there stood, in chocks, a fine powerful screw launch, about forty feet long by ten feet beam; and just ahead of her rose the foremast. Before the foremast gaped the fore-hatchway, also open; then came a handsome capstan; and ahead of it, leaving just comfortable room to work, rose the bulkhead of the turtle-back topgallant forecastle. In addition to the launch, the vessel carried four other boats in davits, namely, two cutters, some thirty-five feet long, and two whaler gigs, each about twenty-five feet long.
My companion—or hostess, rather, I suppose I ought to call her—allowed me to stand about five minutes at the break of the poop, as I ran my eye over the deck and noted, with many approving comments, the various items that especially appealed to me. Then she invited me to accompany her below.
I will spare the reader a detailed description of the apartments—I cannot call them cabins—to which I was now conducted; suffice it to say that, in their several ways, they were a combination of magnificence, luxury, and comfort that seemed to me almost incredible, remembering that I was aboard a ship.
Having duly expressed my admiration for these truly beautiful and luxurious apartments, I was shown two other but much smaller rooms, one on either side of the companion stairway. These two rooms occupied the extreme fore end of the poop, and could be entered from the main-deck as well as from the vestibule. The one on the starboard side was the chart-room, and was fitted up with a bookshelf crammed with nautical works of various descriptions, a table large enough to spread a good big chart upon, a cabinet in which reposed a complete set of the most recently published charts, a case containing no less than four chronometers, and a cupboard wherein were securely packed a whole battery of sextants and other instruments. The corresponding room on the port side was fitted up as a writing room, and here the log slate was kept and the logbook written up from time to time. Here also the ship's clock and a very fine aneroid barometer were securely bolted to the bulkhead, side by side, in such a position that they could be seen from outside by merely glancing through the window. And near them, hung in gimbals from a long bracket, was a very fine Fitzroy mercurial barometer.
My hostess seemed genuinely gratified at the admiration which I freely expressed, especially for the noble array of charts and nautical instruments; these, to be quite candid, appealing to me even more strongly than the sumptuous elegance of the drawing and dining-rooms. She smiled brightly as I expatiated with enthusiasm upon these matters, and when at length I paused, she said:
"Now let us go below, and I will show you the officers' and men's quarters."
We descended from the vestibule by way of a staircase at the back of the main companion, and presently entered the wardroom, which adjoined the dining-room, but was only about half its size. This was the living-room of the executive officers of the ship, and was a very fine, comfortable room, although, of course, its fittings and furnishings were much less sumptuous than those belonging exclusively to the owner.
On the side of the ship opposite the wardroom, and with a good wide passage between the two, was the block of officers' cabins, the comfort and convenience of which left nothing to be desired. Next came the petty officers' berthage, of which the same may be said, although, as was to be expected, the space here was rather more restricted, and the fittings somewhat plainer than in those of the other officers.
Next came the kitchen—it would be an outrage to dub such a place a "galley"—and forward of it again came the men's quarters, a great, airy place, well-lighted by scuttles in the ship's sides, with sleeping accommodation for eighty men. This consisted of two tiers of hammocks, forty hammocks on either side of the room, their head-clews suspended from hooks bolted to the sides of the ship; while the foot-clews were secured to steel stanchions hinged to the deck above, and so arranged that they could be triced up out of the way when required, leaving ample room for the men's mess tables.
I very willingly and very fully expressed my admiration for everything shown me, not only because all was well worthy of admiration, but also because I saw that it gratified my hostess, who explained to me that she had planned everything herself.
At length my inspection of the beautiful and wonderful ship came to an end. As we ascended to the deck by way of the fore-hatch ladder my hostess remarked:
"There! I guess that's all there is to show. And,"—glancing at an elegant little watch which she wore attached to a bracelet—"my stars, if it ain't just five o'clock! I want my tea. Do you drink tea, young man?"
"I should really enjoy a cup of tea, madam, if you would be so kind as to offer me one," I said.
"Are you a teetotaller, then?" the lady asked.
"Well, no; hardly that," I replied. "That is to say, I have never formally forsworn intoxicants; but I very rarely take them—never, indeed, I may say, except when I have been exposed for several hours to extreme cold, or have been wet to the skin, or something of that kind. Even then I am inclined to think a cup of scalding hot coffee really does one more good."
"Well, I guess you're as nearly right as makes no matter," returned my hostess. "Now, just you come into my drawing-room, and I'll give you a cup of real good tea. Ah! there is Lizette, my chief stewardess. I guess she is looking for me to tell me that tea is served, so come along."
The lady was right in her surmise, for the trig, decidedly pretty, and exceedingly capable-looking young woman, in a black dress, with white cap and apron, who at that moment stepped out on deck, came forward and duly made the anticipated announcement.
It was a distinctly novel experience for me to find myself seated in that elegant apartment, drinking the most delicious tea I had ever tasted out of a hand-painted cup of china which I knew must be worth its weight in gold, munching cakes and biscuits of wonderful flavour, and being treated quite as an equal by this smartly dressed and vivacious American lady. Not the least of her charms was that she had the knack of putting one absolutely at one's ease; and presently she began to question me about myself.
"I guess I don't know now whether I've done you any kindness in inviting you aboard to see over the Stella Maris," she said. "I reckon your own ship will seem a bit dowdy in comparison, won't she?"
"I am sure she will—when I find her," I replied. "Unfortunately, I haven't a ship just now; indeed, I had been prowling round the docks all day looking for one when the sight of your yacht brought me up all standing. I love a pretty ship, and anxious though I am to get another berth, I could not deny myself the pleasure of taking a good look at her."
"Y-e-s," my companion agreed; "I can understand that feeling and sympathise with it too. There's nothing made by the hand of man that I admire more than a handsome ship. And so you're out of a berth, Mr—"
"Leigh," I supplied; "Walter Leigh, at your service, madam."
"Thank you!" she answered. "Any relation to the Lees of Virginia?"
"No," I said, "I am afraid not. I am a Leigh of Devon, you know— L-e-i-g-h, not L double e."
"I see," she responded. "Well, Mr Leigh, if it's not a rude question to ask, how do you come to be out of employment?"
"Not through any misconduct of mine, I am happy to say," I answered. "The way of it is this. The City line of ships—the line in which I served and have only recently completed my apprenticeship—is amalgamating with, or, rather, is being absorbed by, the firm of Hepburn Brothers, the one-time rivals of the City line. Hepburns are, of course, taking over many of the City officers, as well as the ships. But Mr Clayton, Hepburns' present manager, was once master of a City liner in which I was serving; and—well, something happened which caused Clayton to lose his berth, and unfortunately for me it was through me that the matter came to light. Consequently, now that Clayton has the chance to do me a bad turn, he is doing it by refusing to take me on with the new firm."
"Is that so? Well, I call that real mean," exclaimed my hostess, in accents of indignation. "And is that the reason why you have not been able to get other employment?"
"Oh, no!" I said, "excepting, of course, so far as Hepburn Brothers are concerned. My failure to-day arises simply from the fact that none of the skippers I have spoken to happen to have any vacancies."
"Nothing wrong with your discharge, I suppose?"
"Nothing whatever," I answered, whipping the document out of my pocket and handing it to her.
She read it carefully and handed it back.
"Thank you!" she said. "I guess that looks all right. How old are you, Mr Leigh?"
"I shall be eighteen on the ninth of next December," I replied, beginning now to wonder whether this questioning was likely to lead to anything, or whether it was merely the result of kindly curiosity on the part of my hostess.
"Eighteen!" she exclaimed. "Well, I declare to goodness I'd have said you were at least three years older, if I'd been asked to guess. Only eighteen! And what kind of a berth have you been looking for, may I ask?"
"Well," I said, "I had it in my mind to get into some big craft as third mate, if I could find an opening. It would afford me a chance to work up for my ticket, which I am naturally anxious to obtain as soon as possible."
"Sure," she agreed. "And do you know anything about navigation? But I guess you do, by the way that you looked at those charts and instruments just now."
"Oh, yes!" I said; "I rather fancy myself as a navigator. Navigation is quite a hobby of mine."
"Tell me how much you know," she said. "I'm something of a navigator myself. In fact, Mr Leigh, I am one of the few women who hold a master's certificate and are qualified to take command of a ship sailing to any part of the world. I am captain of this yacht, in fact as well as in name; I brought her across from New York to the Nore without the ghost of a hitch, and I guess I can take her the rest of the trip round the world, upon which we are bound. Now, go ahead and tell me what you know about navigation."
I named the several problems in navigation, one or more of which I had been accustomed to practise daily and nightly under my late skipper; and the lady was graciously pleased to express her cordial approval of my knowledge.
"Yes," she said; "if you can do all those things I guess you are pretty good—quite as good, in fact, as Neil Kennedy, my chief officer, and he is no slouch as a navigator. Now, Mr Leigh, I have not been putting you through your facings just out of sheer feminine curiosity; I've been doing it with a purpose. I am Mrs Cornelia Vansittart, wife of Julius Vansittart of New York, engineer, the inventor of the Vansittart gasoline engine. I am passionately fond of yachting, so my husband made me a present of the Stella Maris, and consented to my making a voyage in her round the world. She is a good ship, and I have a good crew; but I have only two mates, and Kennedy says that in a ship of this size, and on such a cruise as we are contemplating, I ought to have a third. At first I didn't propose to do anything of the kind, for I don't like being told by anybody what I ought to do, or to have; but somehow, when I saw you lost in admiration of my ship, I sort of took a fancy to you. I like the look of you, and thought that if I must have a third mate, I'd like one something like you; so I invited you to come aboard, that I might have a chance to talk to you and find out if you came up to sample. I mean to have a good time this trip, and I mean that my officers and crew shall have a good time too, if it rests with me. I've taken a whole lot of trouble to pick the right sort of men to man this ship, and I've come to the conclusion that you are the right sort. So if you care to accept the position I am ready to ship you as third mate of the Stella Maris. The pay is thirty per, with all found, uniforms included. Now, what do you say?"
I had a sufficient knowledge of American colloquialisms to be aware that the expression "thirty per" meant thirty dollars—or six pounds—per month, which was considerably better than I had hoped for, or was at all likely to get elsewhere. I liked the ship, and I was immensely taken with my prospective new skipper; therefore I at once unhesitatingly and gratefully accepted the offer.
I was then gracefully dismissed, with instructions to be prepared to "sign on" at eleven o'clock on the morrow, and to have my dunnage aboard not later than noon, since the yacht would haul out of dock and proceed down the river early in the afternoon.
I had taken my leave of Mrs Vansittart, and was already out on deck on my way to the gangway, when the lady rushed after me and called upon me to stop, exclaiming:
"Sakes alive! what's come over me? I declare to goodness I clean forgot that you haven't yet been measured for your uniforms. Colson,"—to one of the seamen who were engaged in striking packing cases down below—"pass the word for Mr Grimwood, please. Mr Grimwood," she explained, "is the purser. I'll turn you over to him, and he will take you to the tailor, who will soon rig you out."
A shout down the after hatchway resulted in Mr Grimwood's prompt appearance on deck, and to him I was in due form introduced.
"Mr Grimwood," said Mrs Vansittart, "this is Mr Walter Leigh— L-e-i-g-h, you know—who will sign on at eleven o'clock to-morrow morning as third mate of this ship. I want you to take him below to Snip, who will measure him for his uniforms. Please tell Snip to arrange things so that Mr Leigh's working uniform shall be ready for him by noon. When you have done that, have the goodness to assign a cabin to Mr Leigh; and at the same time I'd like you to introduce him to the rest of the wardroom officers. You'll see to that? Thank you! Once more, good afternoon, Mr Leigh!"
As the lady turned and left us, Grimwood chuckled.
"So the skipper's taken Kennedy's advice, after all, to ship a third mate," he remarked. "Guess he's put one over Briscoe this time, anyway. Briscoe's our 'second', you know, and he bet Kennedy that he couldn't persuade Mrs Vansittart to ship a 'third'. Kennedy'll be a bit set up when he hears the news, because, between you and me, he doesn't take overmuch stock in Briscoe, and has held all along that we ought to have a third mate to take his place if necessary. Oh, yes, Briscoe's all right, so far as he goes; but he doesn't go far enough. He's not exactly the right sort of man for a ship of this kind, and I think that, for once in a way, Mrs Vansittart made a mistake when she picked him. But I guess you'd better not take too much notice of what I say; I don't want to prejudice you against him."
We found Snip—by the way, that was the tailor's actual name, and not a nickname, as I had at first imagined—comfortably ensconced in a little, well-lighted workroom under the topgallant forecastle. He quickly took my measure, promising, somewhat to my amazement, to have my working uniform ready for me to try on as early on the following morning as I chose to come aboard—the earlier the better, he assured me. This matter settled, the purser—to whom I took an immediate liking—led me aft and down below to the wardroom, where we found Mr Neil Kennedy, the chief officer, Mr Alexander Mackenzie, the chief engineer, and Doctor Stephen Harper, the ship's medico, chatting and smoking together. To these I was introduced by Grimwood; and I was at once admitted as a member of the fraternity with much cordiality.
I liked those three men immensely. Neil Kennedy was a huge man, standing six feet three in his socks, as I afterwards learned, and being bulky in proportion, was the sort of man that a "hazing" skipper would at once have singled out as eminently suited to keep a refractory crew in order and get the last ounce of work out of the laziest skulker. But it happened that Kennedy was not that sort of man at all. Although admirably fitted by Nature for the part, he was not the typical quarterdeck tyrant and bully, but a genial, merry, great-hearted Irish-American of the very best stamp. He could, however, if occasion demanded it, display a sternness and severity of manner well calculated to subdue the most recklessly insubordinate of mariners. His voice was like the bellow of a bull, and could be heard from the taffrail to the flying jib-boom end in anything short of a full-grown hurricane.
The doctor was quite another type of man—tall, lean, clean-shaven, slightly bald, with a pair of piercing black eyes that seemed to look a man through and through. Possessed of a quiet, well-modulated and cultured voice, and a deliberate yet firm manner of speaking, he was apparently a man of high attainments, and unmistakably a gentleman.
As for Mackenzie, the chief engineer, he was but a trifle less formidable in appearance than Kennedy—red-haired, with a shaggy red beard and moustache, the former of which he had a trick of pushing up over his mouth and nose when he was meditating deeply, and immense hands as hairy as a monkey's. He was apparently between forty and fifty years of age, and had been domiciled in America for the last twenty years, which he had spent in Mr Vansittart's workshops, but his accent was as broad as though he had just come straight from Glasgow. He happened to make some passing reference to a certain Mackintosh as being busy with "the engines down below"; and when I enquired with some surprise what engines he referred to, he exclaimed:
"Hoots, laddie! D'ye no' ken that we're an auxiliary-screw, then?"
"Auxiliary-screw!" I ejaculated. "No, certainly not. I had a good look at the craft before I came aboard, but I saw no sign of a propeller. And besides, where is your funnel?"
"Funnel, man!" he retorted. "We ha'e no need o' a funnel. Our engines are operated by gasoline, and we ha'e ane o' twa hunner and feefty horse-power, giving the ship a speed o' seven knots, forbye anither ane o' a hunner and feefty to drive the dynamos and work the capstan and winches. Man, I tell ye this bonnie boat is richt up-to-date, and dinna forget it. As to the propeller, naiturally ye wadna see't, the watter bein' sae thick."
At Kennedy's pressing invitation I remained aboard to dine, and incidentally to be introduced to the remaining members of the wardroom mess—Mr Samuel Briscoe, the second officer, and Mr Robert Mackintosh, the second engineer. Before the meal was over I had come to agree with the purser that in selecting Briscoe for her second officer Mrs Vansittart had not been quite so happily inspired as in the case of the other members of the mess. He was a pasty-faced fellow of about forty years of age, baggy under his watery-looking, almost colourless blue eyes, slow in his movements, glum and churlish of manner, and unpolished of speech; also I had a suspicion that he was more addicted to drink than was at all desirable in a man occupying such a responsible position in such a ship. He would doubtless have done well enough as "dicky" in an ordinary wind-jammer, but on the quarterdeck of such a craft as the Stella Maris I considered he was distinctly out of place.
During the progress of the meal I learned that, as I had already suspected, the yacht was a brand-new ship, this being her first voyage. Her exact measurement, it appeared, was two thousand six hundred and seventeen tons. She had originated in the office of Herreshoff, the world-famous yacht designer, and embraced in her construction every last refinement known to the most up-to-date naval constructor. She had been built to the order of Mr Julius Vansittart, the multi-millionaire engineer and steel magnate, as a birthday present to his wife. Mrs Vansittart's passion was yachting, and she was wont to knock about New York Bay, the Hudson River, and Long Island Sound, with occasional adventurous stretches down the coast as far as Delaware Bay, or even to Baltimore, in a sturdy little ten-ton sloop, the while she studied seamanship and navigation and Mr Vansittart attended to his business.
I further learned that the lady's boast to me, that she was captain of the yacht in fact as well as in name, was literally true, she having not only picked and shipped the entire crew, officers as well as men, but taken command of the ship when the pilot left her, and sailed and navigated her across the Atlantic and up the English Channel with no more assistance from her officers than a shipmaster usually receives.
"I tell you, sor, it's a treat to see her put this ship about, blow high, blow low," Kennedy remarked admiringly; "though how the mischief she learned the way to handle a square-rigger it puzzles the sowl of me to know."
It transpired that Mrs Vansittart was accompanied on this trip by her daughter Anthea, aged sixteen—"as bonnie a lassie as you e'er set eyes upon," Mackintosh interjected—and her son Julius, a lad of twelve—"and thoroughly spoiled at that, more's the pity," the doctor added. There was also a certain Reverend Henry James Monroe, M.A., a middle-aged, refined, and very scholarly man, who served in the dual capacity of chaplain of the ship and tutor to the aforesaid Julius. He was one of the saloon party, and was held in the highest honour and respect by Mrs Vansittart, who deferred to his opinion in all things save in the matter of discipline where her darling boy was concerned. I also learned that the yacht was manned by a crew of no less than eighty seamen, every one of whom was rated as A.B.; so that, with the saloon party, officers, petty officers, stewards, and stewardesses, we should make the respectable muster of one hundred and eight all told when we went to sea on the morrow.
WE GO TO SEA.
It was past nine o'clock, and a cold, dreary night, with a drizzle of rain, when at length I quitted the hospitable wardroom of the yacht and wended my way back to my rather frowsy lodging in Nightingale Lane. Arrived there, I forthwith proceeded to write a letter to my mother, whose home was in the picturesque little village of Newton Ferrers, near Plymouth, informing her of my good fortune in having secured so satisfactory a berth, and explaining my inability to run down and see her before my departure owing to the fact that we were to sail on the following day. Then, having posted my letter, I got my few traps together, bundled them all into my sea chest, and turned in to take my last sleep on English soil for many a long day to come.
I was up and astir again by seven o'clock the next morning, my first move being to go along to the yacht and interview Snip, the tailor, in accordance with my arrangement of the previous evening. To my amazement, I found that the man, with characteristic American "hustle", had got my working suit of uniform far enough advanced for me to try it on. The cut and fit proved to be everything: that could be desired, and I was faithfully promised that the suit should be ready for me to don upon joining the ship after signing articles.
In keeping with our pretensions to be a "swagger" ship and crew, the wardroom mess took lunch, instead of dinner, at one o'clock, dining at seven o'clock in the evening. This was the hour adopted by the saloon party, who, I learned, were regularly reinforced by one or more members of the wardroom contingent, by special invitation from Mrs Vansittart.
It was just two o'clock in the afternoon when the boatswain piped "All hands unmoor ship"; and by half-past two we were through the dock gates and heading down the river, impelled by our own engine.
Bearing out what Kennedy and the others had already told me as to Mrs Vansittart being the actual as well as nominal captain of the yacht, at the call of "All hands" the lady had appeared on deck. She was arrayed in an exceedingly neat and workmanlike costume of navy-blue serge, the jacket of which was fastened with gilt buttons bearing the insignia of the New York Yacht Club, the cuffs being adorned with four rows of gold braid, the top row showing the "executive curl", while her smartly dressed chestnut hair was surmounted by a navy cap of the most approved pattern, the peak edged with the usual trimming of a wreath of oak leaves embroidered in gold thread, while the front of the cap bore the New York Yacht Club badge.
True, she did not give her orders respecting the unmooring of the ship directly to the crew, as this would probably have resulted in unduly straining her voice, singularly sweet and pure in quality, of which, as I subsequently discovered, she was very justly proud. She gave her orders to Kennedy, who acted as her aide and repeated them in trumpet-like notes that could be distinctly heard all over the ship.
It was then, while we were hauling out of dock, that I got my first glimpse of Miss Anthea, Master Julius, and the Reverend Henry James Monroe, all of whom came on deck to witness the passage of the ship through the dock gates and down the river. I was stationed in the waist, and therefore only obtained at that moment a comparatively distant glimpse of the saloon party on the poop, but even that sufficed to confirm the testimony of the second engineer as to Miss Anthea's physical charms. But I did not altogether like her expression, which was a blank, save for a hint of hauteur mingled with dissatisfaction at things in general.
Her brother was so exactly like her in features that the two might have been twins, but he was a good three inches shorter than his sister, as well as a trifle thinner in the face. He talked incessantly in a sharp, high-pitched, and most unmusical voice, the unattractiveness of which was further heightened by a pronounced nasal American accent. From such scraps of his conversation as reached me from time to time I gathered that his talk was almost wholly about himself, his doings, his opinions, his likes and dislikes—chiefly the latter. I liked his expression even less than that of his sister. It was a most objectionable mingling of peevishness, insolence, and self-assurance; while his manner, even to his mother, was domineering and dictatorial to a perfectly disgusting degree. There was no doubt in my mind that he had been thoroughly spoiled from the moment of his birth onward, and the process was still going on, if I was anything of a judge of such matters.
As regards the Reverend Mr Monroe, all I need say about him at this juncture was that he appeared to answer in every respect to the verbal portrait that had been drawn of him in the wardroom during the preceding evening.
Shortly after we had cleared the dock gates I got a message from Snip requesting me to present myself in his workshop as early as possible to try on my mess jacket and waistcoat; which, like the new rig I had donned little more than an hour earlier, I found fitted me excellently. I was promised that the entire suit should be ready for me in time for mess that night (it appeared that everything was done in tip-top style aboard the Stella Maris).
About five o'clock, Marsh, the chief steward, presented himself with a message from Mrs Vansittart, requesting the pleasure of my company at dinner at seven o'clock, which invitation I of course accepted, as in duty bound.
We were just abreast the eastern extremity of Canvey Island when the second bugle call sounded for dinner. I was by that time dressed and quite ready, and joined Kennedy, who had also been invited; and together we repaired to the drawing-room, where Mrs Vansittart, gorgeously attired and wearing many diamonds, very graciously received us and then proceeded to introduce me in due form to the parson, her daughter, and her son.
As regards the parson, I need only say that his manner was everything that the most fastidious person could possibly desire. He was a gentleman, in the highest sense of that often misused term; and although his conversation subsequently, during dinner, evidenced that he was a most erudite and finished scholar, there was nothing of the pedant about him. Information exuded from him naturally and simply because he could not help it; it seemed impossible to broach a topic upon which his knowledge was not complete, and he was brilliant without the slightest apparent effort.
As for Miss Anthea, she looked lovely in a perfectly simple white satin dinner frock, her only jewellery being a thin gold necklet, from which was suspended a very fine opal in a quaint and curious gold setting. She acknowledged my introduction to her with the slightest possible inclination of her head, and thereafter ignored my existence for the rest of the evening. And her brother's greeting of me was equally frigid.
Mrs Vansittart's graceful and kindly geniality, however, made ample amends for the disdainful attitude of her children. She chatted in animated fashion with Monroe, Kennedy, and me for some minutes, and then Marsh, the chief steward, appeared with the announcement that dinner was served. Thereupon she turned to me and said:
"Mr Leigh, you are the stranger of the party to-night; do me the favour to take me down to dinner."
That dinner—as indeed were all those at which I was subsequently a guest—was a banquet. The viands were the choicest of their several kinds, and perfectly prepared; the wines were of rare vintages—at least so Monroe asserted (I was no judge of wines, and contented myself with a single glass of sherry taken with my soup); and the table appointments were on a par with the food and the sumptuous character of the apartment in which the meal was served. There were choice flowers in profusion upon the table; a fire burned cosily in the handsome fireplace; and the table was brilliantly illuminated by handsome, softly shaded electric candelabra of massive silver.
The finishing touch to the enjoyment of the meal was given by Mrs Vansittart's charming manner and sparkling conversation. For the moment we were not her servants but her welcome guests, and she contrived to make us feel this without the faintest suggestion of condescension. She was both brilliant and witty, and in some subtle manner peculiar to herself she not only put us perfectly at our ease, but also put us upon our mettle, so that I at least found myself saying clever things of which I had not before believed myself in the least capable.
It was all so very different from what I had hitherto been accustomed to that I could scarcely persuade myself I was not dreaming some splendid and unusually vivid dream; and I heartily congratulated myself upon the lucky chance which had thrown me into the midst of such delightful surroundings. The dinner, although smartly served, demanded three-quarters of an hour for its consumption; and at its close our hostess took wine with us all, nodded to her daughter, and, rising from the table, retired to the drawing-room.
When the ladies disappeared, Monroe, Kennedy, and young Vansittart resumed their seats, somewhat to my surprise; and a moment later Marsh brought forward cigars, cigarettes, and a jar of choice tobacco. I had been picked for the first mate's watch, and it was our eight hours out that night, consequently by rights I ought to have been on deck at that moment; therefore, as soon as Mrs Vansittart and her daughter vanished, I turned to Kennedy and said:
"If you gentlemen will excuse me, I'll run away and change, and go on deck. I am in your watch, you know, Mr Kennedy, and ought to be on duty now—"
"Bring yourself to an anchor, me bhoy," interrupted Kennedy, pointing to the chair alongside him. "Do ye shmoke? No? Quite right; shmoking is very bad for growing lads," with a glance at Master Julius, who was coolly lighting a cigarette. "If ye don't shmoke ye can at least sit and listen to Mr Monroe's and my illuminatin' conversation until it's time for us to join the ladies. Mrs Vansittart—God bless her kind heart!—allows us just half an hour for an afther-dinner shmoke; then she expects us to join her in the drawing-room until ten o'clock, and to contribute, each in our separate ways, toward the entertainment of the rest. Do ye sing by anny chance?"
I modestly replied that I did, a little, and that in a very amateurish way I also played the fiddle. I may as well frankly confess that in my inmost heart I rather prided myself upon my musical accomplishments, music being a perfect passion with me. I had often been complimented upon the quality of my baritone voice and my manner of using it, while some who might be supposed to be competent judges had told me that I ought to have devoted my energies to becoming a professional violinist. But I was careful not to say anything of this.
"Good! That's capital!" exclaimed Monroe. "Mrs Vansittart will be pleased to hear that, I know; for she is devoted to music, is herself a brilliant musician, and will warmly welcome anyone who can contribute in the slightest degree to the pleasure of our evenings. You have the trick of telling a story well, too, Leigh; our hostess thoroughly enjoyed the humour of that yarn of yours. You should cultivate the art of story-telling; there are very few people who are able to tell a story really well."
"Guess that's all nonsense, Mr Monroe," remarked Master Julius. "It's the easiest thing in the world to talk. Anybody can do it."
"Well—yes, I suppose anybody can," returned Monroe. "But," he continued, meaningly, "it is not everybody who can talk sense, Julius. Moreover, the art of conversation consists in knowing when to talk—and when to be silent."
Master Julius, however, did not agree with this. He argued the point with Monroe so volubly and persistently that anything like general conversation became impossible, and he kept it up until Kennedy, with a glance at the clock on the mantelpiece, deposited his cigar stub in an ash tray and announced that the half-hour was up, and that it was time to adjourn to the drawing-room.
"Ah, here you are!" exclaimed Mrs Vansittart, who was seated at the open piano as we filed into the drawing-room, Master Julius well in advance. The boy marched straight across the room, without taking the slightest notice of his mother, and seated himself beside his sister, who occupied a settee in the far corner, and was apparently so deeply absorbed in a book that she was unaware of our entrance.
"Now, then," continued our hostess, "it has gone one bell, and we have not very much time to spare. Which of you gentlemen will favour us with a song?"
"I suggest, madam, that you should call upon Mr Leigh," said Monroe. "In response to a leading question put to him by our friend Kennedy, the young man has pleaded guilty to a limited ability as a singer, and he has also admitted that there are times when he scrapes upon a fiddle. Knowing Britishers as I do, it is my experience that when one of them goes so far as to say he can play or sing at all, he—or she—can usually do it pretty well; I am therefore not without hope that in Leigh we shall find we have a valuable addition to our stock of musical talent."
"You don't say!" ejaculated Mrs Vansittart vivaciously. "Well, I am glad; for I believe I have heard every one of your songs at least half a dozen times, Mr Monroe; and Mr Kennedy's too, to say nothing about the doctor and the purser. Do you sing and play by ear, or from music, Mr Leigh?"
I explained that I did both, but preferred to have the music before me; and in answer to a further question I admitted the existence of certain books and sheets of music among my other belongings. Thereupon I was ordered off to my cabin, with instructions to fetch them and my fiddle forthwith. When I returned, Kennedy was trolling forth the song "Kathleen Mavourneen" in a deep, rich bass voice that made the spacious apartment ring again, while Mrs Vansittart accompanied him on the piano. But for all the attention that the youngsters gave to the song they might as well have been deaf!
When the song was finished, Mrs Vansittart beckoned me to her, and, taking my music from me, glanced through it. Among it were two volumes of Standard English Songs, a book of songs by Schubert, a book of sacred melodies consisting chiefly of solos and duets from the oratorios, another containing a selection of songs from various operas, and, in sheet, a few ballads and a quantity of music specially composed for the violin. As she glanced through my budget, our hostess volubly expressed her delight, and was pleased to compliment me very highly upon the taste which had dictated my choice. Then, opening one of the books of English songs and placing it before her on the piano, she invited me to sing "Twickenham Ferry". The song happened to be rather a favourite of mine, and when I noticed the exquisite perfection with which she played the few bars of the introduction I just let myself go, and was rewarded for my pains by receiving what sounded like very genuine and hearty applause when the song came to an end.
Then Monroe, who was gifted with a really beautiful tenor voice, sang with much taste and feeling an old plantation song; after which Mrs Vansittart sang in Italian. Then, by way of a change, we had Gounod's "Ave Maria", Mrs Vansittart playing the accompaniment on the piano while I played the air on my fiddle and Monroe joined in with an obligato on the organ. So, in a very delightful way, to me at least, the evening was passed until four bells chimed out, when we closed the concert by rendering "Hail, Columbia!" with all the vocal and instrumental strength at our command.
As Kennedy and I took our leave, Mrs Vansittart very graciously thanked us both for giving her the pleasure of our company, and expressed the hope that we should spend together many equally enjoyable evenings; but Miss Vansittart scarcely deigned to acknowledge, by the curtest nod of her head, our farewell bows. As for the boy, he was, or pretended to be, fast asleep.
Taking my beloved fiddle with me, I hurried away to my cabin, placed the instrument safely in my bunk, shifted hurriedly into my working clothes, and went on deck, where I was presently joined by Kennedy. The pilot was in charge on the poop, and Mrs Vansittart, wrapped in a voluminous cloak, was also up there, taking a look round and a brief promenade before turning in; so the first mate and I fell into step and walked fore and aft in the waist, between the break of the poop and the fore rigging.
It was a lovely night, very clear and brilliantly starlit. There was no moon, the satellite, then well advanced in her fourth quarter, not rising until toward morning; and it was very cold, a light breeze from the north-east having sprung up about the end of the second dog-watch. We were by that time well down toward the mouth of the Thames estuary, the Tongue lightship being about a point and a half before our port beam, while Margate lights were broad on our starboard bow, the ship heading a trifle to the south of east as she edged in toward the land preparatory to hauling round the North Foreland.
There was a small easterly swell running, just enough to impart motion to the ship and let us know that we were afloat, and we were slipping along at a fine rate upon the last of the ebb tide, and as smoothly and as free from vibration as though we had been under sail.
We rounded the North Foreland just before midnight; and when at eight bells Mr Briscoe came on deck to relieve Mr Kennedy I heard the latter instruct him to get the ship under canvas, and, as soon as she was under command, stop the engine and have the propeller feathered. Then I went below, very tired, to snatch four hours' sleep before turning out to keep the morning watch.
I tumbled into my bunk and instantly fell asleep, only to be awakened the next moment, as it seemed to me, by a quartermaster, who informed me, as he switched on the light, that it wanted ten minutes to eight bells. Accordingly I hopped out of bed, washed and dressed, and was in the act of ascending the poop ladder when eight bells struck.
I found the ship under all plain sail, heading south-west, with the lights of Dover just abaft the starboard beam, some five miles distant; and was informed by Mr Briscoe that the pilot had left us about half an hour earlier, and that we were now "on our own". There was a fine fresh breeze blowing from the north-east, and we were sweeping along in fine style, with squared yards and the mainsail brailed up. After a good look at the sky the first mate gave it as his opinion that the wind was going to haul round more from the eastward, accordingly as soon as the watches had been changed he gave the order to set fore, main, and mizen royal, topgallant, and topmast studding sails on both sides, and lower studding sails for'ard. Now came the advantage of our strong crew; for although we were working with the port watch only, we had the whole of those studding sails set in less than half an hour; whereas, had we been manned after the rate of an ordinary merchantman of our tonnage, the job would have kept us busy during the entire watch. As soon as we were through with this work Mr Kennedy instructed me to ship and set the patent log, which I did, taking the exact time when it started, and noting what it registered fifteen minutes later. The result was that we found we were doing just twelve knots, with the wind dead aft and our head sails practically becalmed by our after canvas.
The first mate's prophecy concerning the easting of the wind proved a true one, for when we hauled up a couple of points after rounding Dungeness it followed us, keeping dead astern. At four bells (six o'clock) we mustered holystones and scrubbing-brushes, attached the hose to the fire hydrant, and industriously washed, scrubbed, and holystoned the decks and cleaned paintwork for an hour, after which the planks were thoroughly squeegeed and dried. Then all hands went to work to polish brasswork until eight bells, by which time the ship looked as spick and span as if she had been kept under a glass case, just removed.
When eight bells struck, Beachy Head bore North-North-West by compass, distant fourteen miles. Prompt at the stroke of the bell, Mrs Vansittart came up on deck, dressed in her blue serge seagoing rig, and bade us a cheery good morning. After receiving Kennedy's report and verifying the bearing and distance of the headland, she gave orders for the course to be altered to west-half-south for the run down channel.
It was at this time a clear and brilliant morning, the sky a hard blue, streaked here and there with mare's tails, the sun, pallid and without warmth, hanging low over the French coast well on our port quarter. The breeze was blowing fresh and very keen, although, running before it as we were, we did not feel anything like the full strength of it. Of this we could only get a correct idea by observing the run of the short, bottle-green channel surges breaking in foam all round us, and the way in which a few brigs and schooners, the former under single-reefed topsails, beating up channel, lay down to it and flung the spray over their weather catheads. There were a good many craft going our way too, both steam and sail, the latter, like ourselves, making the utmost of the good fair wind by showing to it every rag that they could spread. But we overhauled and passed them, one after the other, with the utmost ease; and when, a little later, the breeze freshened, we began to give some of the steamers the go-by as well.
By noon we had brought Selsea Bill square abeam, some sixteen miles distant; and at two o'clock in the afternoon, when I went on deck after luncheon, Saint Catharine's was a point abaft the beam, distant eight miles. At nine o'clock that night we were abreast of the Start, when, Mrs Vansittart having determined our distance from the Point by a couple of bearings taken an hour apart, ordered the studding sails to be taken in and the royals and mizen topgallant sail to be furled. We then "took our departure", and, hauling our wind on the port tack, shaped a course for Ushant, which was sighted and passed at three bells in the following morning watch, our next port of call being, as I now learned, Lisbon.
During the day occupied by our run down channel all hands had an easy time of it, there being nothing much for them to do except keep the ship clean and take an occasional pull at a halyard or brace. I therefore had ample time to take stock of the crew and improve my acquaintance with my shipmates generally.
As regards the crew, I had an idea that in a quiet way they were watching me and seeking to "reckon me up". I was a "Britisher", the only one in the ship; and my experience of Americans, which up to that time had been but slight, led me to the belief that the people, taken as a whole, held the Britisher in but light esteem. I therefore decided that, so far at least as the crew of the Stella Maris was concerned, the reputation of my countrymen was to some extent in my hands, and I determined to let slip no opportunity to vindicate it. I was the more strengthened in this resolution by hearing the boy Julius remark to his sister, in tones which I felt were fully intended to reach my ear, that "he had no use for Britishers, and took no stock in them, for they were never of much account."
I do not know whether my brother officers shared the lad's view, or whether they, as I half-suspected the men of doing, were quietly waiting to see of what stuff I was made; but, in either case, they never, with the solitary exception of Briscoe, the second mate, permitted such an attitude to appear. On the contrary, they were genial, cordial, and friendly in a very marked degree, so that within the first twenty-four hours of our being at sea I felt thoroughly at home with all of them. If I had a preference for any above the others it was for Monroe, the boy's tutor, and Harper, the medico of the ship, both of whom were extremely broad-minded men, in addition to being exceptionally well informed and polished in manner. As for our skipper, the more I saw of her the better I liked her. I soon discovered that nothing escaped her notice; she was as smart a seaman as Kennedy himself; she was an expert navigator; the heavens and their portents were an open book to her; she issued her orders with the utmost confidence and decision, and never hesitated to find fault if things did not please her; and yet with it all she was most gracious and friendly in her manner to us all, from the highest to the lowest.
As for Miss Anthea, I am bound to admit that, with the exception of Monroe and the doctor, she treated us all alike with the utmost impartiality, merely acknowledging our salutes with a careless, scarcely perceptible inclination of the head, and otherwise completely ignoring our existence. Her amusements, while on deck, consisted of reading, playing bull, shuffle-board, or deck quoits with her brother, promenading the poop with her mother, and occasionally condescending to exchange a few remarks with the parson or the doctor. But she was a musician of rare ability, and possessed a soprano singing voice of exquisite richness and purity, as I had frequent opportunity of judging by hearing her playing and singing in the drawing-room below while I was on duty on the poop.
That Mrs Vansittart was an ardent sportswoman was evident from the very outset by the way in which she sailed the yacht. She "carried on" consistently, day and night, as though we were sailing in a race, and no sooner were we past Ushant, and the breeze showed signs of freshening, than she ordered preventer backstays rigged fore and aft, and hung on to her canvas until our lee rail was awash and the lee main-deck flooded to such an extent from the topgallant forecastle to the poop that its passage became an impossibility except by swimming.
We swept across the Bay like smoke driven by a strong breeze, overhauling and passing everything that was going our way, excepting a big Cape liner; and we actually held our own with her for some hours, until the breeze eased up sufficiently to allow the steamer to draw gradually away from us. We must have presented a most beautiful picture to the people aboard that boat as we swept along for a time neck and neck with her, our snow-white cotton canvas gleaming in the brilliant sunlight or flecked with sweeping blue shadows as the yacht rushed through and over the foaming surges with the water all aboil about her and every perfectly cut sail, to her three royals, accurately set and drawing like a team of cart horses.
The fresh easterly breeze which had swept us down channel in such splendid style lasted long enough to carry us to the mouth of the Tagus shortly after nine o'clock in the morning of our fifth day out from London; and by noon of that day we were riding at anchor off the city of Lisbon. Here we remained two days, our next destination being the island of Madeira.
From Madeira we went on to Teneriffe, and from Teneriffe to Gibraltar; after which we gradually worked our way up the Mediterranean, calling in at a number of interesting places on the way. We were at Ajaccio on Christmas Day; and it was characteristic of our skipper that she so arranged matters as to spend the day aboard with us, giving the crew a rare good time and inviting the whole of her officers to dine with her in the evening.
We left Ajaccio on the evening of New Year's Day, and, passing through the Straits of Bonifacio, headed for the Bay of Naples, where we arrived at nine o'clock on the morning of the third of January. From Naples we proceeded to Messina; thence to Malta, Athens, Constantinople, and Jaffa, where we were all afforded an opportunity to make the trip to Jerusalem; and from Jaffa we proceeded to Port Said, where, after remaining at anchor some four or five hours, we ran through the Canal during the night, with an enormous searchlight suspended from our bowsprit end to light us on our way. We anchored at Suez the next day, and Mrs Vansittart then announced that we should remain there at least a week, during which the men would be granted daily leave, while the officers were to make their own arrangements, subject to the approval of Kennedy, who was left in charge. I thus had an opportunity not only to visit Cairo, but also to take a run out to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. As a matter of fact we remained at Suez nearly a fortnight, awaiting our skipper's return, when we hove up our anchor and proceeded down the Gulf of Suez into the Red Sea, duly noting Mount Sinai on our port hand as we passed it.
AN INDIAN OCEAN HURRICANE.
I am not writing this story as a mere diary of travel, and will therefore push on as rapidly as possible to the point where the real living interest of the voyage began, contenting myself with a mere brief reference to the various spots at which we touched. We took eight days to make the passage to Aden, where we arrived early on a certain morning, leaving at five o'clock the same afternoon, after a visit to the famous Tanks. Our next port of call was Zanzibar, whence we proceeded to Durban, in Natal. From Durban we proceeded to Mauritius, remaining in Port Louis harbour two days to permit of a visit to that extraordinary natural curiosity, the Peter Botte Mountain.
From Mauritius we sailed for Colombo. The weather was glorious when we left Port Louis, and for two days afterward, with moderate breezes from the south-east; toward sunset, on our third day out, however, we began to notice signs of a change. The barometer had started to decline shortly after noon; and as the afternoon advanced the breeze weakened, so that from a speed of fourteen knots we dropped down to a bare five, although we were under royals, had all our staysails set, and were showing our whole flight of starboard studding sails as well, the wind being about a point and a half abaft the beam. At the same time the aspect of the sky underwent a subtle change. The clear, rich blue of the vault became gradually obscured by a veil, at first scarcely perceptible, of dirty, whitish-grey haze, from which, by the time of sunset, every trace of blue had completely vanished.
Gradually, too, the sun became shorn of his rays, although there was no perceptible diminution of heat, until at length when the great luminary was upon the point of sinking below the horizon, he had changed into the semblance of a huge, shapeless mass of molten copper hanging suspended in the midst of an almost equally shapeless conglomeration of flame and smoke. Then he slowly vanished from view; the flaming, smoky western sky seemed to blaze up for a few moments into a still fiercer conflagration, the hues deepened until they became a mingling of blood and soot, when with startling suddenness they died out and an inky blackness enveloped the ship. At the same time the small remains of the wind died away, leaving the yacht rolling and lurching heavily upon a sea that seemed to have no run in it, but heaved itself up into great hummocks, only to subside again in the same purposeless manner.
It was drawing on toward the end of the first dog-watch, and as a matter of fact I was off duty. But one never spends a dog-watch below in the tropics if it can be avoided, and Kennedy and I had gone up on the poop together to watch the sunset and discuss with Briscoe, the second mate, the meaning of the portents. Kennedy had never before been in that part of the world, but I had, and while he did not quite know what to make of the aspect of the sky, I had already made up my mind pretty well regarding what was in store for us, and had expressed my opinion as to what we might expect. The first mate did not altogether agree with me, and had proposed that we should refer the matter to Briscoe, who, like myself, knew, or professed to know, the Indian Ocean pretty well. So up we went; and presently, when the last gleam of light was vanishing from the sky, Kennedy beckoned Briscoe to him and said:
"Well, Mr Briscoe, what d'ye think all that grand show away to the west'ard means? Mr Leigh here, who has been in these parts before, says he belaives we're in for a hurricane."
"Hurricane be hanged!" retorted Briscoe, who always seemed to find a peculiar pleasure in belittling any opinion that I might express. "What we are in for is a thunderstorm that will make some of ye sit up and take notice. I guess it will bring with it some pretty considerable squalls, so it will be a good plan to stow a few of them flyin' kites of ours. They're doin' no good anyway, and will only thrash themselves threadbare if we leave 'em abroad."
"That's so, and I guess you'd better see about it at once, Mr Briscoe," remarked Mrs Vansittart, emerging from the companion at that moment. She had apparently heard Briscoe's last words as she came up the companion way. "I've just been looking up the weather remarks in the Indian Ocean Directory," she continued; "and from what it says I guess there's a hurricane brewing, Mr Kennedy, so—"
"Why," interrupted Kennedy, "that's what Mr Leigh here says. But Mr Briscoe, who ought to know something about the Indian Ocean, says no, it's only going to be a thunderstorm, probably accompanied by heavy squalls."
"And do you know the Indian Ocean, Mr Leigh? Have you ever been here before?" demanded the skipper.
"Several times, madam," I answered. "And once I was caught in a hurricane which dismasted us. The appearance of the sky then was very much what it was this evening, while the barometer behaved pretty similarly to what ours has been doing."
"Then that settles it," exclaimed Mrs Vansittart. "There are two to one—the Indian Ocean Directory and Mr Leigh against you, Mr Briscoe; and I guess we'll prepare for the hurricane. Stow all the light canvas; stow everything, in fact, except the fore and main topsails and the fore-topmast staysail; then we shall be ready for anything that comes—eh, Mr Leigh?"
"Assuredly much better prepared than we are at the present moment," I said. "But if I may be permitted to offer a suggestion—"
"You may, Mr Leigh," replied the skipper. "Yes; go ahead. What do you advise?"
"Well, madam," I said, "since you are good enough to give me leave, I would advise that the staysail be stowed also, the topsail yards lowered to the caps,"—we carried patent reefing topsails—"the royal and topgallant yards and topgallant masts sent down on deck, as well as the studding sails out of the tops; and that extra lashings be put upon the boats and booms. Then I have no doubt we shall ride out whatever may come with reasonable comfort and safety. And when it comes, I would heave the ship to with her close-reefed fore topsail aback; also I would have a small tarpaulin ready to lash in the weather mizen rigging in case the topsails should blow away. Finally, I would direct Mackenzie to see that his engine is all ready for starting at a moment's notice, if need be."
"Sakes alive!" exclaimed Mrs Vansittart, "do you really believe it's going to be so bad as all that?"
"I certainly think it not at all improbable, madam," I said.
"Then I guess we'll do as you say," exclaimed the lady. "It's the right thing to err on the safe side, and I won't take any chances. But it will be bad for the men to have to work in this darkness. When does the moon rise?"
"She is due to rise at about eight forty-five to-night," I said. "But I am afraid it will be useless for us to look for any help from her; we shall get no light from her to-night."
"You think not?" she said. "Then—ah! there is four bells," as Briscoe, having descended to the main-deck, came up on the poop and struck the bell. "Let the men get to work at once, Mr Kennedy, both watches, and see that Mr Leigh's suggestions are carried out. And, say, I guess I won't risk having the topsails blown away; we'll furl everything while we're about it; and if the hurricane comes we'll heave to under bare poles. How will that do, Mr Leigh?"
"Admirably, madam," I replied. "You will then have done everything possible to provide for the safety of the ship; and when the blow comes, as I feel sure it will, there will be no need to risk the lives of any of the crew."
The necessary orders were at once given, and we all repaired to our several stations. My duty was to supervise operations on the mizenmast, Kennedy having charge of the men working upon the mainmast, and Briscoe supervising those upon the foremast, and when I went aft I found Miss Anthea and her brother seated in a couple of basket chairs by the taffrail. It was necessary for me to stand quite close to them for a few minutes; and I had no sooner taken up my position than I heard the boy say to his sister, in tones loud enough to reach my ears:
"Say, 'Thea, why does Momma pay so much attention to what the Britisher says? I guess I don't like it—and I don't like him, either. I am going to speak to her about it. Who is he, that he is to be consulted before Kennedy and Briscoe? They're Amuricans, while he is only a Britisher, and they've been to sea longer than he has; and anyway, an Amurican is a darn sight better than a Britisher any day."
"Yes, I guess you are right, Ju," replied the young lady; "only you need not allow your dislike to betray you into vulgarity. I hate Englishmen, but I do not find it necessary to use the word 'darn', and I wish you wouldn't; it is only common, vulgar people who use it. And I wouldn't speak to Momma either, if I were you; it is not worth while. Momma thinks the man is clever, but, of course, he isn't, and she will find it out sooner or later."
So that was it! I had often wondered at the attitude of latent hostility of these two youngsters toward me; and now I understood. They hated Englishmen! Well, their hatred did not trouble me in the least; it was passive, or at all events was only so far active as to prompt them now and then to make offensive remarks in my hearing, and taking into consideration who and what they were, I could put up with a good deal of that. But it had the effect of putting me upon my mettle. I was determined to prove to them that they were mistaken in their estimate of Englishmen, not because I attached any value personally to their good or bad opinion, but because eventually they would be man and woman, if they lived, and, from the position which their wealth would give them, would have the power of influencing the opinion of their fellow countrymen to a certain limited extent. I felt that it was my duty to do what I could to lessen the unreasoning dislike of my fellow countrymen which I had noticed in so many Americans.
It was at this time a dead calm, with a very heavy, confused swell running, so that the only sounds heard, apart from our own voices, were the wash and gurgle of the water alongside, as the ship wallowed uneasily, the loud rustle and flap of the canvas aloft, and the creaking of the spars. Moreover, it was intensely dark—to such an extent indeed that I found it impossible to superintend operations from the deck. Presently, therefore, I sprang into the mizen rigging and made my way aloft to the mizen topmast crosstrees, from which I directed the operation of sending down the royal and topgallant yards, and afterwards took a hand in sending down the topgallant mast, having the satisfaction of finding, when I returned to the deck, that we on the mizenmast had beaten both Briscoe and Kennedy. I reckoned that, on board a well-disciplined, old-fashioned British man-o'-war, the task of sending down royal and topgallant yards and masts and stowing all canvas would have been accomplished, under similar circumstances, in about twelve minutes, at the utmost; but it took us thirty-five minutes by the ship's clock. This I thought not at all bad, however; for in the first place we were nothing like so heavily manned as a man-o'-war of our size would have been, nor had our hands the constant practice in such evolutions that a frigate's crew would have had. But the main thing was that our lady skipper was satisfied, and was good enough to say so.
It remained intensely dark until close upon ten o'clock that night, when the thinnest imaginable suggestion of moonlight came filtering weakly through the dense curtain of cloud that now overspread the heavens, just enough of it to enable us to see objects close at hand and avoid hurting ourselves by running foul of them, as we had been doing while moving about the decks. The weather still remained stark calm, and the ship was rolling so furiously that I should not have been at all surprised to see the masts go over the side at any moment. The gear was all good and new, however, and held bravely; but the motion was so intensely disagreeable, and we shipped so much water over both rails, flooding the main-deck and necessitating the battening down of the hatches, that at length Mrs Vansittart gave orders to start the engine, and the ship was then put stem-on to the swell, which had now become more regular, setting out from about North-North-East. This action brought us immediate relief, as it enabled the helmsman to keep the ship out of the trough, though the violent rolling was exchanged for almost as violent a pitching. But the thunderstorm which Briscoe still persistently maintained was coming, failed to eventuate; and hour after hour dragged away with no indication of any immediate change, save that the feeble glimmer of moonlight, instead of increasing, gradually died away again, leaving us in almost as bad a plight as before.
At midnight, when I went on deck to keep the middle watch, Mrs Vansittart was still up; and I thought that her temper seemed to be rather on edge, perhaps owing to the strain of the long-spun-out suspense. At least she responded rather sharply to Kennedy's and my greeting when we joined her on the poop.
I thought that perhaps Briscoe had been talking to her during his watch, and doing his best to discredit my judgment, for no sooner had we joined her than she turned upon me, and, in very incisive tones, informed me that she had come to the conclusion that I had been mistaken, and that there was going to be no hurricane after all, otherwise it would have come before then. But I knew that the Indian Ocean hurricane sometimes takes a long time brewing; indeed, in the case of my previous experience it had threatened for more than ten hours before it actually burst upon us. I explained this to her; and also said that there was nothing in the aspect of the weather to make me alter my original opinion. We were still engaged in debating the matter when a peculiar low, moaning sound became audible in the air, rapidly increasing to a weird, unearthly howl, and a wild, scuffling gust of hot wind swept over us from the north and went whining away astern of us until we lost sound of it altogether.
"It is coming at last, madam," I said; "we shall probably have three or four more such gusts as that, each lasting longer than the one preceding it, and—"
"And, begorra, here comes number two, now!" exclaimed Kennedy, as a similar sound once more became audible; and with a vicious swoop another gust smote us so fiercely that the yacht stopped dead, unable to make headway against it. For a full minute or more it seemed as though half a dozen separate and distinct winds were battling together for the mastery, the yacht being the centre and focus round which the battle raged. We on the poop were buffeted helplessly this way and that, so that it was only with the utmost difficulty we could keep our feet; indeed, Mrs Vansittart was literally lifted off her feet for a moment and blown across the deck with such violence that, had she not luckily been forced straight into my arms, so that I was able to catch and hold her, she would probably have been seriously injured by being dashed furiously against the poop rail.
She thanked me breathlessly as I dragged her by main force to the mizenmast and passed a couple of turns of the topgallant halyard round her waist, securing her to a belaying pin; and by the time that this was done the gust, like the first, had passed. I begged her to go below, before worse happened, assuring her that Kennedy, who was in charge, would know exactly what to do; but the little lady was grit to the backbone, and positively refused to leave the deck. On the contrary, she ordered Kennedy to counter-brace the yards with the head yards aback, and then heave the ship to on the port tack, after which everybody but ourselves and the look-outs was to go below, and while she was giving these orders she deftly passed a few more turns of the halyard about herself, so that she could not possibly be blown away unless the mizenmast was blown out of the ship. Also she begged the loan of my black silk neck scarf, which she tied over her head and under her chin, so that her yachting cap might not be blown overboard, as mine had been.
By this time the air all about us was in a state of continuous agitation, the wind sometimes swooping down upon us in savage gusts, and anon easing up for a moment until it was scarcely more than a zephyr; but these lulls momentarily became of briefer duration, until in the space of about ten minutes it was blowing hard but very unsteadily, the heavy gusts following each other with ever-increasing rapidity. And now we felt the full benefit of our earlier preparations; for with the counter-bracing of the yards—a task accomplished in less than a minute—everything that was possible had been done; and all that remained was to ride out the gale as best we could.
We were now afforded an opportunity—the first that had ever occurred, as Kennedy yelled for my information—to see what a really magnificent sea boat we had under our feet, for under the scourging of that terrible wind the sea rose with appalling rapidity, notwithstanding that the top of every sea, as it rose, was torn off and swept to leeward in blinding and drenching clouds of spindrift. And although our engine had been stopped, the ship lay to in the most perfect manner, heading well up into the wind and taking the seas, as they came at her, as buoyantly as a gull, shipping very little water except what came aboard in the form of spindrift or scud water, with an occasional spattering over the weather cathead.
But this was only the beginning of the hurricane—merely its awakening, so to speak. With the passage of the minutes the wind steadily increased in strength until the wailing and shrieking of it through the spars and rigging aloft resembled the tones of a mighty organ, drowning every other sound; while the yacht lay down to it until her lee rail was completely buried and the water was right up to her main-hatch coamings. As the wind increased, however, we rode somewhat easier, for after a time it became impossible for the sea to rise; indeed, the strength of the wind was such that it actually flattened the sea down, every wave, as it reared its head, being swept away as a deluge of spray. The air was full of it—as full as it is of water during a tropical shower; and the only manner in which we could distinguish it from rain was by the salt taste of it upon our lips.
I think the worst feature of it all, however, was the hideous darkness in which we were enwrapped; for outside the small circle of light emanating from the skylights it was impossible to see anything save a faint, ghostly white radiance representing the phosphorescent surface of the foaming sea, in the midst of which the hull of the yacht stood out black, vague, and shapeless, it being impossible to see the whole length of her because of the dense clouds of spindrift which enveloped us.
At length it occurred to me to wonder how our lady skipper was faring in the midst of this awful turmoil of wind and sea; and, watching my opportunity, I made a dash for the spot where, dimly outlined in the sheen of light from the foremost skylight, I could just distinguish her form huddled up against the foot of the mizen mast. As I reached her I noticed that she seemed to be hanging limply in her lashings, and, stooping closer, I presently discovered that the plucky little lady had fainted. The buffeting of the wind and the pitiless incessant pelting of the spray had been too much for her; and unable to call for assistance, or to escape unaided, she had succumbed. This fact established, I lost no time in summoning Kennedy to my assistance, when, having cast her adrift, we managed between us to convey her safely to the companion and carry her below to her cabin. We then roused the doctor and Lizette, the chief stewardess, and turned her over to their care, after which we left her there and returned to the deck to complete our watch.
I think that middle watch was the longest four hours hat I had ever spent, chiefly because of its extreme discomfort and the fact that there was nothing to do. First of all, I was drenched to the skin, the conversation in which I was engaged with Mrs Vansittart when the hurricane started having rendered it impossible for me to go below and get into my oilskins. Then there was the unceasing buffeting of the wind, which seemed at times as though it would drag me limb from limb. There was also the continuous scourging of the spray, which stung like the lash of a million whips; and finally, there was the oppression of a very real anxiety, for, as I think I have mentioned, the yacht was as heavily rigged as a frigate, and notwithstanding the relief afforded by sending down her tophamper, she lay down so alarmingly that at length I began seriously to question whether it would not eventually end in her turning turtle. Eight bells came at length, however; and when shortly afterward I got below, shed my streaming garments, towelled myself dry, and tumbled into my bunk, my discomfort and anxiety promptly left me as I sank into a sound and dreamless sleep.
I SAVE JULIUS'S LIFE.
When, shortly before eight bells, I was called by the wardroom steward, I at once became aware that a change of some sort had occurred in the weather. For, on the one hand, the list of the ship to starboard seemed to be no longer so heavy as it had been when I turned in; while, on the other, the motion was far and away greater—so violent indeed was it that, seasoned as I was to the movements of a heaving deck, I experienced the greatest difficulty in maintaining my balance. When presently I went on deck, my previous impressions were fully confirmed; for although it was still blowing a whole gale, the maniacal fury of the hurricane was past, while the sea, no longer flattened down and kept practically level by the irresistible strength of the tempest, had risen rapidly and was now an almost terrifying sight to behold. Especially was this the case when the ship settled into the trough, with one great foaming liquid mountain rushing away to leeward of her, while another enormous grey-back, towering above us as high as our lower mast-heads, came swooping down upon us from to windward with hissing angry crest, threatening to hurl itself bodily down upon our decks and sink us out of hand.
Yet that threat was never fulfilled, for the yacht was behaving magnificently. She came to in most perfect style as she climbed the breast of each oncoming comber, heeling steeply to it the while and turning up a bold weather bow to meet its onslaught. Then, as the crest curled in over her turtle-back topgallant forecastle, smothering it in whirling and blowing foam and spray, she would swing upright and, with a lift of her stern and an easy weather roll, go sliding down into the trough beyond, her head paying off as she did so. And although she was still under bare poles, with her head yards aback, I could see, upon looking over the side, that she was forging ahead at a speed of about a knot and a half.
But although the wind was no longer blowing with hurricane force it still had the strength of a heavy gale, and while a reference to the barometer showed that the mercury had begun to rise, there was no other sign of improvement in the weather. The sky was almost as black and threatening in its aspect as ever, with innumerable shreds and tatters of dirty whitish-grey cloud sweeping athwart at a speed that made one giddy to look at; while there could be no question that the sea was gathering height, weight, and volume with the passage of every minute. The air was still heavily charged with flying spume and spindrift, necessitating the use of oilskins and sou'westers, and keeping our spars, rigging, and decks streaming; but we could see with tolerable clearness for at least a mile in every direction.
Yet although the general feeling out on deck was one of dampness and discomfort, we had not the added misery of cold to deal with. On the contrary, it was so warm that shortly after I went on deck, having breakfasted, I felt my long oilskin coat and sea boots so uncomfortably warm that I presently slipped below again for a moment, and, removing them and my socks, donned a short oilskin jacket and returned to the deck barefooted, for the sake of the greater comfort. I took it for granted that Miss Anthea would never dream of turning out in such weather, while I felt sure that Mrs Vansittart would excuse me, under the circumstances, the more so as she had often before come on deck while we were paddling about, barelegged, washing decks. And indeed when, shortly afterward, she emerged through the companion way, encased in a thin mackintosh reaching to the hem of her dress, and with a light sou'-wester on her head which in nowise detracted from her good looks, she at once set me at my ease by laughingly complimenting me upon the sensible character of my attire. Then, in a very different tone of voice, she thanked me for having come to her rescue on the previous night when, overcome by the terrific buffeting of the hurricane, she had swooned while lashed to the mast.
We—that is to say, Mrs Vansittart, Kennedy, and I—were still standing together under the lee of the wheelhouse, discussing the weather generally, and the probable duration of the gale in particular, when the boy Julius came up from below, emerging from the companion way at the precise moment when the ship, with a terrific lee roll, was climbing to the summit of an exceptionally heavy sea. Precisely how it happened I could not possibly say, it occurred so suddenly, and moreover I only saw the last part of it; but I imagine that the lad must have lost, or inadvertently released, his hold upon the side of the companion at the critical moment when the velocity of the ship's roll was at its highest. Be that as it may, Julius no sooner stepped out on deck than he went with a run straight to the lee rail of the poop, fetched up against it with a force that must have knocked the breath out of him, and then— although the rail was breast-high to him—in some inconceivable fashion seemed to lurch forward upon it, turn a complete somersault over it, and plunge headlong into the sea. It was Mrs Vansittart's shriek of "Julius!" and her look of petrified horror, that caused me to wheel round, and I was just in time to see the lad go whirling over the rail.
One's thoughts move with lightning-like rapidity in moments of emergency, and as I saw the boy going I thought, "Kennedy is no good; those heavy sea boots of his would drag him down and sink him in a few seconds; I must go myself!" And as the thought flashed through my brain I tore off my oilskin jacket and, shouting to Kennedy, "Lifebuoy—bend to signal halyards!" made a dash for the rail, while Mrs Vansittart's shrieks lent wings to my feet.
As I reached the rail the ship topped the surge, which went rushing and roaring away beneath her and to leeward in a tremendous boil of foam, in the rear of which there was a space of almost glass-smooth indigo-coloured water, down through which I thought I saw something that might be the boy's body. Without hesitating an instant I vaulted the rail, landing upon the curved turtle-back outboard, flung my hands above my head, and plunged straight for the spot where, a moment before, I thought I had seen the lad's body.
I went deep, kicking and striking out vigorously as I felt the water close about me, for the thought occurred to me that if the boy had really hurt himself badly when colliding with the rail, he would probably not rise to the surface at all, but would slowly sink. As I forced my way downward I looked about me, and presently saw a glimmering white something far below which might be the object of my quest, for the boy was dressed entirely in white. Desperately I urged myself downward, the gloom increasing with every stroke; and at length, when I felt as though my lungs would burst and I could not retain my breath another second, I grabbed something, I scarcely knew what, and turning, struck upward toward the blue glimmer of light far overhead.
How I managed to hold my breath during that seemingly endless climb to the surface I cannot say, but I did it somehow, my head emerging from the water at the very instant when the air escaped from my lungs in one long gasp. I quickly filled them again, looked to see what I had brought to the surface with me, and found that, as I expected, it was the apparently lifeless form of Master Julius. I had grabbed the lad by his ankle, so that he hung head downward in my grasp. That would never do; so, treading water vigorously, I shifted the position of the body until I had the head resting upon my shoulder; and at that moment I felt myself being hove up, up, up, and the next instant a very mountain of water went hissing and roaring over my head, plunging me helplessly hither and thither and momentarily threatening to tear my prize from my hold.
As soon as I had again got my breath, I looked round for the yacht. She was nowhere in sight; but presently, as I began to wonder what had become of her, I saw her topmast-heads swing into view beyond the head of the comber that had just swept past me, and then up she swept until the whole of her hull was visible. I saw a crowd of people gathered aft by the taffrail, and others in the rigging, all peering out under the sharp of their hands in various directions. Then, as the craft surmounted the grey-back and came sliding down its weather slope, rolling to windward until I could see nearly half her main-deck, one of the figures suddenly pointed toward me, and in an instant every face turned my way, while one man, whom I presently recognised as Kennedy, put one hand to the side of his mouth, as though shouting, while he pointed with the other.
Not a word could I hear, however, for my ears were still full of water, while such sound as entered them was merely the hiss and roar of the sea. But I guessed what the mate was pointing at, the more readily as I saw one man paying out a thin line over the rail; so I looked eagerly about me, and presently saw, some thirty fathoms away, a white lifebuoy floating in the midst of a wide surface of foam, the ship at this time being perhaps twice as far from me as the lifebuoy. But just as I started to strike out for the buoy, another heavy sea swept over me, treating me pretty much as the first had done, and all but suffocating me into the bargain.
I thought that, hampered as I was with the boy's inert body, I should never reach the buoy, for I seemed utterly unable to make so much as an inch of progress in that frightful sea; and once, after I had been overwhelmed about a dozen times, the thought came to me that if I wanted to save myself I must give up the idea of saving the body, which after all would be a useless task, since I felt certain that the lad was dead. But no; I could not return to the ship and face the lad's mother empty-handed. I could picture her despair under such circumstances, for Julius was Mrs Vansittart's only son, and, spoiled as he was, I believed that she loved him more than her husband, more than her daughter, more than her own life. No, it was not to be thought of; I had undertaken the task and I must execute it. I had raised her hopes, and I would not disappoint them if God would only give me strength to reach that buoy.
At length, after what seemed like a century of effort, I did reach it, and, laying my hand upon its nearest rim, tilted it over my head and under my armpits, at the very moment—as I afterward learned—when those aboard had paid out four sets of signal halyards to the bare end of the fourth set!
And now came the delicate and difficult task of hauling me alongside in the shortest possible space of time, without parting the halyards on the one hand or drowning me on the other. But Kennedy was the man for the job. Even as I vaulted the rail and plunged into the water his active mind, aided by past experience, had enabled him not only to grasp the full import of my hasty words concerning the lifebuoy and the signal halyards, but also to foresee exactly what must inevitably happen. And while he was in the very act of unreeving the peak ensign halyards, preparatory to bending them on to the lifebuoy which his ready knife had slashed off the taffrail, he was shouting for somebody to pass the word for Mackenzie, the engineer.
When Mac, already issuing from his cabin to learn what all the sudden outcry was about, received the message and came rushing aft in response to the call, he in turn was fully prepared for the order which Kennedy gave him, to go below and set his engine going dead easy astern. Thus by the time that I reached and got into the buoy, the ship's way through the water was stopped, and, highly dangerous though such a proceeding undoubtedly was, under the circumstances, they were able to haul me gradually alongside and up under the counter without mishap, the engine of course being stopped again at the right moment. And when once they had got me under the lee quarter of the ship all the rest was of course comparatively easy. Two of the hands standing by hove me a couple of standing bowlines on ropes' ends, one of which I slipped over the inanimate Julius's head and under his armpits; and when I saw that they had got the body safely in over the rail I slipped into the other myself, and was hauled aboard amid the triumphant yells of the crew—to swoon as my feet touched the deck.